Austin Film Festival 2022: AFTERSUN

Scottish filmmaker Charlotte Wells makes her feature film debut with a powerful examination of human suffering and the struggles to stay afloat while drowning in sorrow. I know that sounds completely morose and depressing, but Wells knows how to balance the joys of living, along with the opposite side on a very thin tightrope. Wells, her cinematographer Gregory Oke, and editor Blair McLendon also bring to their fillm a strikingly gorgeous and hypnotic style that beautifully and hauntingly depicts this real human ordeal of rising above sadness.

Aftersun stars Paul Mescal and Frankie Corio as father and daughter Calum and Sophie. Even though her parents are divorced, Sophie’s father still attempts to remain part of her life. The movie mostly takes place on a fun and memorable vacation to which Calum treats his daughter. At the age of eleven, Sophie and Calum vacation in Turkey, and while it isn’t exactly the most lavish and extravagant of holidays, adult Sophie (Celia Rowlson-Hall), through a lot of her life, has remembered this trip with much fondness.

The now grownup Sophie reviews an old camcorder tape and the footage that captured not only the highlights of their excursion, but also some of the more intimate, and sometimes lows during that moment of time. Sophie feels haunted by some of these moments, as she feels that their was a much darker, tormented side to her father Calum that she didn’t completely recognize as a child. As she continues to piece together her memories and reviews the recording, Sophie hopes to get a more complete picture of the seemingly positive, and happy-go-lucky man she thought she knew.

Not only was I blown away by this visual and aural experience that highlights this very intimate and moving film, I also enjoyed much of the writing by Charlotte Wells. The filmmaker obviously has great skill and proficiency in telling the story and developing the characters , and does so ever so subtlely. I do feel, however, that this approach needs just a little bit more exposition and revelation when it comes to the father character. I would have like a few more clues as to what was troubling the father so much. This more mysterious and ambiguous approach does make it more difficult to relate to and feel substantial empathy towards his character.

Back on the much more positive side of things, the performances by the lead actors are absolutely wonderful. Though I wanted more information on the Calum character, Paul Mescal utilizes the writing and direction superbly and delivers an exquisite and heartbreaking turn. As the smart and occasionally smart-ass young Sophie, Frankie Corio is an absolute joy to watch and shows incredible range for such a young actor. And as the adult version of Sophie, Celia Rowlson-Hall gives an evocative and wistful performance full of longing, obsession, and sorrow.

Even though have one gripe about this movie, I have much respect and admiration for filmmaker Charlotte Wells. I am still very much impressed with what she has to offer here and definitely look forward to more films by her. Aftersun screened at this year’s Austin Film Festival, and is now playing in select theaters.

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